Measuring and Tracking Search Engine Success

A special report from the Search Engine Strategies 2001 Conference, November 14-15, Dallas, TX.

How do you know if you have been successful with search engines? There are tools that allow you to find out how well you rank or the actual terms people used to reach your web site. However, you might want to go beyond these and "close the loop" by also measuring sales conversions. Three industry experts discussed these issues and provided tips to attendees at the "Measuring and Tracking Success" Panel at the Search Engine Strategies conference.

"Your conversion rate is a measure of your ability to persuade your visitors to take the action you want them to take," said Bryan Eisenberg, CIO of Future Now, Inc. "In order to achieve your goals, your visitors must achieve their goals first."

When trying to measure your online success, you should first define: how are you going to measure success. "Web analytic software takes raw data and turns it into structured information in the form of reports. Once we understand the interrelationships of the data we gain knowledge that allows us to take action to maximize the effectiveness and conversion rates of our sites," stated Eisenberg.

Some of the conversion metrics to measure include site penetration ratio (SPR), percentage of single page visits, and customer conversion rates.

John Simpson, Product Marketing Manager of the WebTrends Division of NetIQ, said that the key area to measure is visitor conversion. Are your site's visitors doing what you want them to do? Are they subscribing to your newsletter, downloading your demo software, making a purchase? Converting visitors to customers is more important than simply tracking page views.

Items that can assist with visitor conversion are:

  • Top referring URLs

  • Top search phrase report
  • Top destination paths
  • Marketing campaign effectiveness
  • Shopping cart abandonment

By determining the top referring search engines and directories, you can determine (a) what end users typed in to search queries and (b) which pages they landed on in your site. If end users are coming to your site and not converting, then you know that you have to modify the site's content to get a higher conversion rate.

Laura Thieme, President of Bizresearch, Inc. stated, "Whether it's a search engine optimization (SEO) professional, webmaster, business owner or marketing manager's job to promote a web site, it often becomes their job to determine how well the promotion strategy is working."

"In order to determine the success of a web site promotion project, one often has to provide some form of measurable results," stated Thieme. "This often involves tracking several forms of data from a variety of sources and attempting to analyze what the data means.

Thieme outlined different types of tracking including:

(1) tracking search engine visibility
(2) tracking the success of online promotion efforts
(3) tracking what web site visitors really want
(4) tracking online sales or other forms of web-based leads, registrations, inquiries
(5) tracking customer conversion ratios (CCR)

Thieme learned many lessons from tracking visibility, traffic, online sales and customer conversion ratios. One of the basics is to target specific keyword phrases in search engine optimization campaign. Search savvy customers want to find exactly what they're looking for, and quickly.

"How many times have we left a site because we couldn't find what we were looking for?" asked Thieme. Business Week (September 24, 2001) published a survey from Jupiter Media Metrix that 80% of users will abandon a site if its on-site search tool doesn't work well.

Thieme suggested creating a custom "Results not found" message offering a toll free or regular phone number, and hours of customer service. If you are a B2C (business-to-consumer) ecommerce site, and your customers are shopping after hours, provide your email address. Check email more frequently throughout the Christmas shopping season.

According to Thieme, regardless of rankings in the top ten search engines and directories, B2C sites seem to get most of their traffic from MSN Search, Yahoo, Google and AOL Search. B2B (business-to-business) sites seem to get more traffic from Yahoo, Google, MSN Search, and AltaVista.

"While keyword buys might bring instant guaranteed top three rankings in a search engine," explained Thieme, " search engine optimization might be able to reduce the long-term advertising cost by as much as 33 cents per visitor. For those with a larger budget and unable to wait for two to three weeks, Overture keyword buys are now very good for getting top visibility for certain keyword phrases at Yahoo, if Yahoo is a target marketing channel."

Thieme stated that there is long way to go to standardize the information collected from tracking software and what that information means. She suggested the following tracking software to get started, emphasizing that users should one of the following from each category:

(1) Ranking tools: WebPositionGold, TopDogg, Kowabunga's WebRank, and Bizresearch's Bizwatch. The first two are PC-based, and the latter two are web-based ranking tools.

(2) Web traffic tracking tools: NetIQ's WebTrends, Surfstats, DeepMetrix's LiveStats, and NetTracker. WebTrends and Surfstats make it easiest to determine exactly what the web site visitor is looking for, and whether or not they're finding it. It also makes it easy to determine whether or not they're finding the shopping cart to use, if it's an ecommerce web site.

(3) Another nice tracking tool is Position Technologies' search engine submission tool, Position Pro. It shows exact search string used for every page submitted, as well as the number of daily referrals for that search string and average position. This is helpful for search engine optimization professionals who need to show etailers proof of visibility and traffic before pursuing a larger search engine strategy.

To determine customer conversion rates, Thieme said, a person will need to share sales or online lead generation information with its marketing and search engine optimization (SEO) staff.

Shari Thurow is the Marketing Director and Webmaster for Grantastic Designs, Inc. ( She has been designing and promoting web sites since 1995 for businesses in a wide range of fields.

About the author

Chris Sherman is a frequent contributor to several information industry journals. He's written several books, including The McGraw-Hill CD ROM Handbook and The Invisible Web: Uncovering Information Sources Search Engines Can't See, co-authored with Gary Price. Chris has written about search and search engines since 1994, when he developed online searching tutorials for several clients. From 1998 to 2001, he was's Web Search Guide.